Operation Paul Bunyan and an unscheduled Port call

(Names have been changed or omitted to protect the innocent)

The night was much like any summer night in Yokosuka…Friday night on the town, payday was only a couple of days ago so the sailors still had money in their pockets. The two sailors were sitting in their normal seats at the bar which they had begun calling their “old stand by”. The music was not too loud and was a mix of country and country rock which suited these sailors’ tastes. Neither of them liked the new “rock and Roll”. It was just noise to them and seemed to be influenced by illegal drugs…definitely not to their liking. The other great draw to this bar were the good-looking women. Wow, I mean it was heaven. Both of these sailors had been in Japan between five and ten years and had managed to stay single…so far.

They were both First Class Boatswain’s Mates attached to Aviation Squadrons on board USS Midway CV-41. We’ll call them Big Jim and Little John; Big Jim was a rather large man and Little John was short and squat. I know, your next question is, “what the hell were black shoe Boatswain’s Mates doing in Aviation Squadrons”. It seems that someone in Big Navy, the upper echelons, decided that the Airedales needed someone with intelligence and practical experience to teach them the finer points of Damage Control. Along with the DC training the “roof rats” needed someone to police them and instill some discipline as Mommy wasn’t around any longer. Normally Airedales work on the roof and are not exposed to regular shipboard life…however, that’s another story for another bar, and probably another altercation of some kind!

The two BM1’s were on their third beer by now and in walks two Shore Patrolman. With a booming voice, which was most definitely heard over the loud music blaring from the large speakers…the largest of the two Hardhats shouted out ”any Sailor’s here off the Midway…liberty is cancelled, get your asses back to the ship on the double”. He then exclaimed…”this ain’t no fuckin’ drill, this is a personnel recall, move it now”.

The two Boatswain’s Mates enjoying their beer didn’t have to be told again! They unassed their stools and headed for the door. As Big Jim and Little John are walking back to the ship, Jim says, “wonder what this shit is all about”? Little John just shrugs and says, “your guess is as good as mine Boats”.

They arrive at the ship, walk up the gangway, salute the OOD and request permission to come aboard as is standard custom. The OOD recognizes both sailors, knowing they are both attached to Aviation Squadrons and says, “report to your squadron Ready Rooms as soon as you change into uniforms”.

BM1 Big Jim heads down to his berthing compartment and changes into his dungarees not wasting any time either. He heads up the ladder, goes aft down the passageway to the hanger bay and uses the short cut up to the ready room. He searches the ready room for the First Lt. Yes, even squadrons have a Junior Officer assigned as a First Lt. He sees his boss and walks over to find out what is going on. Ltjg. McGaugh motions BM1 over and tells him that they will be getting underway for the Korean Peninsula as soon as the ship can make steam.

BM1 is thinking, “hell that’s going to be a miracle”. He had been talking with his snipe shipmates this afternoon and they were telling him about the condition of the steam plant. The yard birds had descended on the steam plants like vultures. Boilers were in pieces, valves removed, various auxiliary equipment down and inoperable…BM1 is thinking “hell, no way we can get underway in twenty-four hours. We have twelve boilers and from what BT1 told me the other day, four of the boilers are down hard for repairs”. Big Jim is thinking, I’ll be back on the Honch tomorrow night. Big Jim asks the First Lt. if he needs anything from him for the evening. Receiving a negative reply, BM1 heads to the Squadron’s Admin office where he runs into his steaming buddy, YN1 McCormick. YN1 and Big Jim usually hit the beach together when the ship pulls into Subic Bay, Philippines. They have become close shipmates. YN1 Mac is about eight years older than Big Jim. When the ship is underway, the two sailors go out on the Port Sponson to shoot the shit. BM1 has been getting serious about this girl down in Subic. However, he also has feelings for a young lady here in Yokosuka. YN1 always says to Big Jim, “you’re going to have to shit or get off the pot Boats, better make up your mind one of these days pretty quick like or both of your young lady friends will be in the wind and flyin’ with some other sailor”.

“Any idea what’s going on Mac…I hear the ship’s been told to get underway in twenty-four hours”, he says to YN1. “That’s affirmative Boatswain’s Mate…who knows, all those Damage Control lectures that you’ve been drilling into the Airedales’ heads may come in handy”. Big Jim has to think about that comment for a minute as it sounds a bit ominous.

Big Jim decides to pay a visit to his shipmate BM1 Little John. As he is walking through the hangar deck, he gets the distinct feeling that every worker employed at the Ship Repair Facility, Yokosuka is on board Midway this evening. He sees machinery coming aboard everywhere he looks. He hasn’t seen this much activity in a shipyard since his days in Vietnam which were actually not that long ago. He finds Little John and asks him if he has heard anything other than the ship is preparing for an underway period tomorrow. BM1 Little John is attached to a Fighter Squadron and tells Big Jim he has overheard some of the fighter pilots talking about gearing up for the real deal! The two Boatswain’s Mates decide to go down to the First-Class Mess for a cup of coffee and listen for any scuttlebutt about the personnel recall.

Quite a few shipmates are in the Mess drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. Seems to be a lot of friendly chatter between the “black shoes” and the “brown shoes”, this feels a bit unusual to Big Jim. RM1 Ryan walks through the door and all present take notice. Petty Officer Ryan always has the inside scoop but is not forthcoming this evening. He grabs himself a cup of coffee, sits down with the two BM1’s and lights his cigarette. “So, what is going on RM1? I hear we have orders to get underway sometime tomorrow and that we are headed for Korea”, says Big Jim. “I really can’t say anything until we are underway and away from the pier”, exclaims RM1 Ryan. The usual fount of knowledge has sealed lips tonight.

Taps rolls around and the ship is still a hotbed of activity…yard workers everywhere putting machinery back together, removing pier services where possible. The ship is still on shore power as all switchboards haven’t been put back in operational status yet. BM1 decides it is time to hit the rack for the evening as it’s about midnight…he knows that sleep will be in short commodity tonight. He’s remembering what the Squadron Ltjg. said about heading for the Korean Peninsula…hmmm, interesting turn of events here. The ship had just returned from an underway period and was due for some heavy maintenance projects. Thus, all of the work being performed by the Ship Repair Facility, Yokosuka.

Boats is already in the shower when he hears reveille being called on the 1MC. He finishes up and heads back down to the compartment, throws on a fresh set of dungarees, and heads for the chow line right above his berthing compartment. He loads his tray up with SOS, several slices of bacon, some fresh fruit and orange juice. He looks for a seat and sees RM1 Ryan with an empty seat next to him. “Any news from radio central” exclaims Big Jim. “I told you last night Boats, everything is classified until we are free of the pier. Anyway, I am sure the Old Man will fill the crew in as soon as we are past the cut and headed out of Tokyo Wan” says Ryan in a voice with attitude. “Alright, alright, don’t get your panties in a ball RM1. I am just curious about what the hell is going on” exclaims Big Jim.

After finishing his meal Big Jim heads for his work space, stopping at the Squadron Admin office first. YN1 McCormick is already at his desk working on documents. The Squadron Ready Room is aft of the Admin office. Big Jim wanders in and sees his boss right away, Ltjg. McCaugh. “Are you ready to get underway Boatswain’s Mate”, asks the First Lieutenant. Boats replies in the affirmative adding, “sailors belong on ship’s and ship’s belong at sea Sir”.

The ship is all buttoned up by around 1700 that day. The shipyard workers did an amazing job in the amount of time they had to accomplish such a large amount of work. Shore power has been removed and the ship is on ship’s power. The engineering plants have been lit off and preparations made for getting underway have been accomplished by all hands.

“Now set the sea and anchor detail, Department heads submit reports to the OOD” comes the announcement on the 1MC.  Big Jim loves hearing this announcement…although he loves his liberty and doesn’t miss out on too many liberty nights he does love getting underway. The old saying “haze gray and underway” is music to his ears. Being attached to the Aviation Squadron, he does miss being in charge of line handlers, doing Underway Replenishments, Sea and Anchor Detail, all of those things that make up the Boatswain’s Mate Rating. However, this tour is just about at a close then he’ll be calling the detailer for a new set of orders, then off to another new adventure.

Big Jim snaps out of his daydreaming when he hears the 1MC again. “This is the Captain speaking, now that we are clear of the pier, I can promulgate just why we had to get underway in such a hurry. We will be picking up the Air Wing shortly and be joined by our escorts. We are headed towards the Korean Peninsula as a show of force to the DPRK. The North Koreans have apparently killed two soldiers at the DMZ who were trimming a tree that was obstructing the view from one of their Command Posts. Our Task Force will be standing off the coast of Korea, joining forces with units of the US Air Force, US Army and elements of the South Korean Infantry. The entire operation is called Operation Paul Bunyan”.

During Operation Paul Bunyan the Air Wing is busy getting in their flight time and flying sorties to show the DPRK that the US Navy is in the area. The US Army stationed in South Korea has gathered their artillery at the border and helicopter gun ships are performing their missions. There was even a fly over of B-52 Stratofortresses out of Guam. The US Military machine was indeed flexing its’ muscles for the benefit of Kim Il-Sung and his Generals. This show of force was apparently enough for the DPRK to issue an apology to the US for the murder of the two soldiers on August 18, 1976 as well as providing reparations to families of the victims.

So, as it turns out the fighter pilots of the squadron that BM1 Little John was attached to didn’t get to experience their “real deal”. No missiles were fired and no bombs were dropped by the Navy during Operation Paul Bunyan. Our two BM1’s meet in the First-Class Mess and over a couple cups of coffee and a couple of smokes start planning their next liberty even though they are not sure which port they will be in next. As it turns out they won’t have to wait long as the ship has been granted a three-day port visit in Pusan, South Korea. Big Jim and Little John are elated. The only thing they are not happy about is that the ship will have to anchor out and run liberty boats which is really no big deal…so they think.

As the ship nears the port of Pusan and the assigned anchorage the crew is excited. The ship anchors and sounds Liberty call. BM1 Big Jim exclaims to BM1 Little John and anyone else within ear shot, “Texas Street, here I come”. Cheers erupt on the liberty launch as it draws near the assigned pier. Now, remember, if you’re paying attention it is late August, Typhoon season! But, who cares. Another successful mission accomplished using that “Midway Magic”. Liberty expires on board at mid-night, Texas Street is like a hot bed of charcoal and sailors are ready to sizzle some steaks, if you catch my meaning.

Shit, déjà vu strikes again…shore patrol enters the bar where Big Jim and Little John are sitting enjoying their cold beer and warm talk with the local bar girls. “Alright sailors unass your bar stools. Liberty has been cancelled due to an approaching storm…this ain’t no shit. Head back to your ship now…the seas are already building so move it” shouts the largest of the two Shore Patrolman. Our two intrepid BM1’s have had several beers by now. However, are able to make it back to the pier under their own steam. They board the liberty launch, an older LCU sold to the South Korean Navy and fitted out as a liberty launch. The LCU heads out into the harbor and arrives back at the ship. No way can the craft make it alongside an accommodation ladder. The LCU approaches the Lee side of the aft quarter and damned if Second Division hasn’t outdone themselves. A debarkation net has been rigged over the side of the ship. Our two BM1’s are impressed as they head up the net hand over hand. Big Jim looks over at his partner Little John and exclaims, “told you this would be an adventure. Only in the Navy can one enjoy this shit. The civilians back home don’t have a clue Boats”. Safely on deck they head to the First-Class Mess for some hot coffee and smokes. What an adventure this has been.

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